Friday, September 16, 2005

Nestorian Christology


I don't think that you realize that people are calling Nicene Christology "subordinationistic" and arguing that Nestorian Christology is orthodox. Lots of Evangelicals stopped being "Christian" in the sense of the "core" Christian doctrines a long time ago, except perhaps in nominal profession. You don't know how bad it is in "conservative" Evangelical scholarship. They're no better than liberals in terms of Christology.


i) Speaking for myself, I have never endorsed Nestorian Christology. For one thing, scholars disagree on what Nestorius really believed. They also disagree on what Cyril really believed. There’s more than one extreme to be avoided here.

Beyond what they individually believed, such terms are apt to take on a life of their own. What position is designated by these terms? What position is attributed to Cyril or Nestorius, whether accurately or not?

So there are several questions which need to be sorted out. The average theology textbook gives one a cartoon version of Nestorian Christology.

ii) My basic contention is that we should not be dogmatic about things we don’t know to be true, and have no way of knowing to be true. Let us not affect a microscopic knowledge absent a God-given microscope. The church cannot conjure up certitude out of thin air.

iii) It’s odd that Prejean’s dander is up over my description of Nicene Christology as subordinationistic. He himself reserves the attribute of “autotheos” for the Father. Thus, his own position is simply a modification of Origen’s modalistic template, which was Origen’s harmonistic device for preserving monotheism. In that respect, Prejean is no better than the liberals with respect to the Trinity.


The reason that it's important is that the absence of the reliance on Antioch significantly undermines the rationale for Evangelical exegesis and the presuppositions brought to the text. The Antiochene method of exegesis is inexorably tied to reading Scripture in anti-allegorical moral/ethical terms rather than metaphysical terms, which is why Nestorius, like Theodore Mopsuestia before him, misreads the hypostatic union as a moral/ethical union of grace by divine will, exactly what Chalcedon rejected. It makes for good homiletics but bad theology, because you invariably end up anthropomorphizing God in moral/ethical terms or endorsing Pelgianism (historically both). The entire motivation for the Calvinist/voluntarist reading of the text, particularly justification being perceived as moral/ethical rather than metaphysical, turns exactly on this point (combined with ignorance about Augustine's use of Platonism, but that's another subject). Note well the importance of the analogy between Christology and hermeneutics; the view of the content of Scripture in purely moral/ethical terms corresponds with the view of Scripture as a purely immanent document (something that Athanasius noted in his dispute with the Arians). Deny the allegorical, and you deny the transcendent as well; it's no coincidence that Calvin preferred the Antiochene Chrysostom above all others.


i) This is pure intellectual rubbish. The GHM does not prejudge one’s theology or Christology or soteriology.

It is simply bound to principles of original intent and logical implication. We then listen to what the Bible writers have to say. If they make moral assertions, the GHM respects their moral assertions. If they make metaphysical assertions, the GHM respects their metaphysical assertions.

The GHM in no way hinders a Bible writer from making a metaphysical claim. Prejean has his wires crossed.

ii) If Prejean’s Christology is leaning on the broken reed of allegorical exegesis, then so much the worse for his Christology. He has erected his faith on a foundation of sand.

And allegorical exegesis is not the least bit finicky about how you shape or reshape the sand. Arius can use allegorical exegesis to shape an Arian sandcastle. Valentinus can use allegorical exegesis to shape a Gnostic sandcastle.

iii) The Calvinist takes justification as forensic rather than metaphysical because Paul framed his doctrine of justification in forensic terms, which are taken over from the forensic categories of OT law.

iv) As to anthropomorphizing God, Prejean is confusing the literal sense with the GHM. These are not interchangeable. The GHM is perfectly at ease with idiomatic imagery and varieties of literary genre.

v) Augustine’s Platonism comes as no surprise to Calvinism.

vi) I do not regard the hypostatic union as merely moral rather than metaphysical. But that doesn’t commit one to a particular model of theanthropic psychology.

vii) There is no internal relation between allegorism and transcendence. This is yet more of Prejean’s nonsense on stilts. In the nature of the case, allegorism is a blank slate. It’s consistent with anything and everything, whether immanence or transcendence, Arius or Athanasius. With Prejean, the more he says, the less he means.

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